Curb Screen Time, Encourage Your Toddler or Preschooler’s Development

“Screen time” might be the two most guilt-inducing words for parents today especially as tablets and smart phones offer instant distraction for young children.

But let’s face it–sometimes a parent needs to take a shower, enjoy a few moments of conversation with a friend or drive somewhere without constant interruptions. However, when the fifteen minutes turns into several hours a day, it might be time to look at other activities designed to stimulate your child’s fine motor, language and social skills.

Two moms with young children, Brittany Puchbauer, speech language pathologist, and Mallory Scroggins, occupational therapist, both with Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Rehabilitation, understand screen temptation.

“Technology breeds convenience and ease, but there are also consequences,” Scroggins said. “Our kids’ skills develop through play–using their hands to touch and feel different things. Don’t limit those opportunities, or you will limit the development of their fine motor skills.”

Here are some of their suggestions for alternative activities:

  • Use tactile mediums: the messier, the better. Sand, water beads, Play-Doh or moon sand.
  • String spaghetti noodles, pipe cleaners or straws. Double up with snack time and string cereals like Cheerios or Froot Loops.
  • Drop cotton balls down a toilet paper or paper towel roll. Count how many.
  • Tear or wad up different sizes of paper, tissue, foil or newspaper.
  • Play with tape.
  • Use tongs or tweezers to practice picking up fuzzy balls and putting them into a container.
  • For preschool and kindergarten-age children, use scissors to cut paper into basic shapes like circles, squares and triangles.
  • Encourage pretend play–the more the better.

“Imagination is dying,” Puchbauer said. “Being able to understand that an empty paper towel roll can be a microphone or a magic wand develops higher level language and understanding. You can’t teach kids to pretend on a tablet. It is just not as abstract as playing ‘pretend.’”

Brittany Puchbauer, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech language pathologist at Kids at Koke Mill Pediatric Rehabilitation Services and has worked for Memorial for nine years.

Mallory Scroggins, MOT, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist at Kids at Koke Mill Pediatric Rehabilitation Services and has worked at Memorial for six years.

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